“Voluntourism” is the newest travel fad making a comeback for young students looking to explore the world on a dime. Founded in 1997, GVI—a moniker for Global Vision International—has organized more than 24,000 volunteers who have raised more than $30 million worth of direct financial support to philanthropic projects worldwide. Think of it as the socially responsible answer to the summer lull when matriculating students find themselves in a poolside tedium, or graduated students are met with a lack of hiring. Programs range from marine life conservation in Fiji to elephant rehabilitation in Thailand, and now operate in over 10 countries.
It started when GVI’s founder, Richard Walton, went to Patagonia as an 18-year-old, and volunteered building a bandstand in a remote village. No villagers came out to see, work on, or thank Mr. Walton and his group for their efforts, and he was quite sure it will be pulled down for firewood after he left. He had a great time, made some great friends, and grew as a person, but felt it was a missed opportunity. He felt that instead, they should have been working on a project requested by the local community. “GVI was created upon this principle. We only run projects that are requested by, and directed by, local NGOs,” GVI’s CEO Steve Gwenin said in a recent phone interview with the Observer. “We staff them ourselves, manage the volunteers, complete the work as requested and directed by the partners, and the results and credit for the program stays with them. It’s their project, not ours.”
“We work hard and play hard really,” he said of the program aimed at young students. “Volunteers work five days a week, and have weekends off, but the days can be long. As we live and work as a team, it creates a great team spirit as the team overcomes challenges and many laughs along the way. Our volunteers come from all around the world, on my last visit to a base I counted eight nationalities from 14 volunteers, and the intercultural mix creates a lot fun. We can almost guarantee that every single person will both laugh and cry during their program, and be supported as they do so!”